Time Capsule

This records my personal memories, thoughts, and other miscellany.

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Location: Colorado, United States

My wife Sue and I are retired and have lived in the same house for over 30 years. Our local family consists of son Mason, daughter Katrina, son-in-law Dan, granddaughter Natalia, and grandson Joel, all living in the same metropolitan area where we live.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

About Being Organized

Sue and I are “list-makers.” We are “catalogers.” We are “planners.” We are “organizers.” We’re not really obsessive-compulsive, but we do not enjoy chaos.

When I was working in an office, with lots of paperwork to accomplish, reading materials to study, projects to work on, and deadlines to meet, I found myself becoming stressed because I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume. Reading matter, even important things, sometimes got shuffled to the background way too long. I always met my work deadlines, but I could never seem to get to a point of planning ahead and getting the jump on projects or other coming demands.

Finally, I decided to take a one-day class in time management. That may have been the best-spent workday of my career. In about six hours, I learned several techniques that made the rest of my working life so much easier and less stressful. Making and prioritizing “to-do” lists were the keys to getting me out from under the heavy burden. I took a day back at the office (or maybe two) to create lists of things that needed to be done and to organize the lists into time categories, such as Immediate, Today, This Week, This Month, This Year, and Future Years. The different lists were in different colors for easy recognition and to help with the organization and prioritizing. Although this was accomplished in the days before we had computers in the office (done with paper and colored pens and markers), it was extremely effective for me. I soon found that I was no longer behind in my reading, I was getting projects done ahead of time, I was not forgetting anything that needed to be done (not just the most important items), and I was much more relaxed. I was actually accomplishing much more work than I had ever in the past.

This process worked so well at the office that I applied it to my home life. List-making became second-nature to me. I think I almost drove Sue crazy with all my lists, but we both eventually came to rely on some of them. We currently keep shopping lists going continuously – for groceries and household items; we virtually never fail to buy the things we are needing when we go shopping. We have a travel list that we use to remind ourselves of everything we need to take on a trip, whether it’s a one-day jaunt, or a trip of several weeks. We no longer have any concern that we forgot something in our bags or that we left something undone at the house. We have a monthly household work list – things that need to be done to keep the house and yard maintained on a year-round basis. The furnace filter gets cleaned regularly, the smoke detectors are checked, even the fire extinguishers get some attention each year. When we get busy on several projects simultaneously, I create daily lists – what needs to get done on each project each day (if possible). If something doesn’t get done, we just reschedule it, but we don’t forget to do something important because of the lists. What the lists do for us is to remove the problem of constantly thinking about what has to get done, which can lead to insomnia and stress. If it’s on the list, it’s off our minds, and we get more done, because we don’t spend energy trying to remember it and worrying about it.

We catalog collections. We have collections of several types – turtle figurines, gnomes, bells, Fostoria dishes, wizard figurines, Mickey Mouse items, games, movies, jigsaw puzzles, and music CDs, as well as a few other small collections. The only collection not cataloged at all is the music CDs group; these are stored alphabetically in the CD cases, and that meets our needs. We began collecting turtles in 1966, created our catalog of them in 1981, and keep it up to date as new items are added. It is now on computer, rather than on index cards, and the descriptions and photos of all the items are in a well-organized notebook. The bells, wizards, and Mickey Mouse items are also photographed and in a notebook, and Sue has begun working on adding her gnome photos and descriptions to the collections notebook. I keep the movie catalog on a free downloaded software package on my PC. Sue probably will complete the Fostoria catalog this week. Our game collection is (sort of) “cataloged” online on BoardGameGeek. In 2005, I traded or gave away about 150 boardgames and card games, and our collection now consists of about 90 games. The jigsaw puzzles number about 50, all Springbok brand, I believe. Sue even has a short catalog of her tablecloths, with descriptions and measurements (to accommodate different sizes of the dining room table, as well as smaller tables in the house).

Sue and I are pretty good planners. I prefer to have a plan for any significant event or activity, with such items as who, what, when, where, and sometimes how, specified in advance. We actually can do things spontaneously, but we plan major events, to be sure nothing important is forgotten. We assisted our daughter and her fiancé at the time with their wedding planning, and the wedding and related activities (such as managing lodging and transportation for out-of-state family guests, the reception, and a luncheon we prepared on the day following the wedding) went virtually perfectly. We plan trips and give itineraries to family, friends, and neighbors, so we can be reached in an emergency. We plan menus well in advance for family lunches and picnics. We even planned our retirement well. Having good plans and following them remove a lot of stress from the events.

We keep our lives and home pretty well organized. We both know where things are in the house. Our tools are always put back in the same places, we never lose remote controls, and things that are boxed and put away in the attic are generally labeled well. All our home seasonal decorations are stored in plastic storage boxes, by holiday season.

Lists, catalogs, plans, and organization make our lives easier, simpler, and less stressful. They make retirement a pleasure.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

So What's the Deal Here?

Our family thoroughly enjoys playing games almost every Saturday, and we also like to keep records of who wins the games and how well each person finishes in each game. We have been keeping the records for five years this month.

So far this year (the month of January), Sue has won 4 games, our daughter has won 3 games, our granddaughter has won 1 game, and until today, no male member of the family had won any games. Our grandson won a game today, to break the pattern. This is most unusual for us. Generally, our son wins about half the games we play, while our son-in-law and I are usually next in order (although our daughter has been at the same level as me for a while).

Today, we played one game for the first time --
Through the Desert, one game for the second time -- Boomtown, one game for the fourth time – Around the World in 80 Days, and one game that we play a lot -- Carcassonne. Now, my son-in-law and I have played Through the Desert online and enjoyed it very much. So, today we were teaching the game to the rest of the family, but he finished 4th and I finished 3rd out of five players (our daughter won the game). Now what’s up with that?!

Sue won Boomtown, barely beating our daughter. Our daughter won Around the World in 80 Days, and our grandson won Carcassonne by a large margin.

Wait – it gets worse (for me) – in the four games we played, I finished 3rd in Through the Desert and dead last in the other three games! But, I’m the game geek here. I research the games, exchange information with other game geeks, and study the game reviews, session reports, and strategy papers. I buy the games that I think the family will enjoy playing, and I’m losing terribly?! What’s the deal here?

Well, I really don’t mind. I am enjoying playing the games so much, especially trying the new ones we just acquired; we all have a great time together; and it is really neat to see Sue, our daughter, our granddaughter, and our grandson winning. I’m not really upset about losing so badly today, because I know I’ll win some during the year, and it’s the fun of playing that I’m after, anyway. And that’s not just rationalization on my part (at least, I don’t think so).

Boardgames and card games are a great hobby, and our family certainly gets a lot of enjoyment from playing them together.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Crossing the Chasm

I’ve been trying to think of something I could write regarding games, since that is a major hobby of mine, but nothing has yet come to the fore. While thinking along this line, however, I began cogitating about something similar – what some people refer to as the “ah-ha” moment. I’ll call it the time of crossing the chasm.

From the time I was in elementary school, I had been interested in codes, and I have no idea where I first learned of them, but the idea of substituting one set of letters, numbers, or symbols (or a combination of them) for the alphabet, and then writing something that only someone with the code key could read was fascinating to me.

When I was in high school, I occasionally visited the public library in a larger town near the one in which I lived. I enjoyed just walking down the aisles of books and looking at the titles, and sometimes browsing through a book that caught my attention. While doing this one day, I noticed a book that discussed codes. I checked it out, read it, and enjoyed it.

When I attended college, the school published a weekday daily campus newspaper, which I enjoyed reading. One daily item that interested me was the cryptogram, probably picked up from a national newspaper syndication. I had never seen a cryptogram, and I could not imagine how to solve it. Obviously, it was a coded message, but I didn’t have a clue how to approach it; it just looked very difficult – in fact, it looked impossible. Although I didn’t attempt to solve them, my eyes were always drawn to them.

One of my favorite authors from my junior high school (or middle school) days was Edgar Allan Poe, but the first time I encountered his story "The Gold Bug" was while I was a college student. I enjoyed the story, as I did most of Poe’s writings, and one of the parts of it I found particularly intriguing was the coded message passages and Poe’s description of how the message was deciphered.

One day, after reading Poe’s story, I happened to think of the coded message solution of that writing at the same time I was looking at the cryptogram in the campus paper. Suddenly, my brain made some sort of connection, and I “crossed the chasm.” Applying what I had learned from Poe, I quickly worked my first cryptogram puzzle. Ho, ho – what an eye-opener. After that, I couldn’t wait to work the cryptogram every day in the paper.

I have experienced that feeling a number of times, generally in working some type of puzzle or playing a complex game. I recall the same thing happening when we first acquired a Rubik’s Cube. It looked impossible, but I was soon not only solving it, I was trying to solve it quicker and quicker.

When we first purchased an Atari electronic game machine and bought the game cartridges, we entered into a new arena of entertainment. One of those games was called “Kaboom.” The challenge involved little round black bombs dropping from the top of the screen, and the player had to catch them in little buckets of water at the bottom of the screen. If a bomb was not caught in time, it exploded at the bottom of the screen; three explosions, and the game ended. If the player was successful on one level, catching a certain number of bombs, the next level dropped more bombs and dropped them faster from different locations at the top of the screen. At the higher levels, the game became frantic. The first few times I played the game, I thought “This is impossible.” It appeared to me that no one would be able to progress past a couple of levels. Then, at some point, I crossed the chasm. I discerned a pattern, or something like a pattern, that allowed me to begin anticipating the next bomb, even at much faster speeds. I was soon doing what I had, a few days before, considered impossible.

I have experienced similar moments while attempting to solve “mechanical” puzzles – metal, wood, or plastic items that must be disassembled and/or assembled. There usually is one set of steps or one key movement combination that allows the puzzle to be solved. Once the puzzle is solved, it is solvable again and again. Additionally, the principle that is involved in solving one puzzle is sometimes directly or indirectly applicable to the solution of other puzzles.

It seems to me that much of life involves standing at a chasm – encountering a problem that seems impossible to solve – and finding a way to cross it. The most successful people in life find or build a way across, while others panic or become dismayed and give up. Successful people also learn to adapt previous solutions (theirs or other people’s) to cross new chasms, thus making their own lives much easier. There are several keys to crossing chasms – learn from prior personal experiences; learn from other examples; keep an open mind; ignore the little voice in the brain that tells you “it’s impossible”; look for a solution that isn’t obvious; let your mind work on the problem unconsciously while you are doing something else; and look at problems that are similar, to find something that might apply to the current problem. Perhaps the most important way to cross is to just simply keep trying; practice does indeed make perfect. Once the problem is solved, you have that “ah-ha” moment, when it all comes together and makes sense – you cross the chasm.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Sue and I celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary today. We had a great lunch at Cinzetti’s restaurant. Forty-two years can go by in a hurry. We feel quite smug about the fact that we survived that long in one marriage, since we know few people who have. Actually, it took a lot of work, give-and-take, caring, and tolerance, but it was certainly worth it. I doubt we would change much of it at all, if we had it all to do again.

This afternoon, we worked some more on the turtle collection. Looks like we have the inventory just about straightened out, with only two or three items missing from the display cabinet (tiny earrings or stickpins). Close enough. Sue will finish the scrapbook/notebook soon.

I’ve been on the PC and Internet quite a bit this afternoon, commenting on blogs and on BGG. I also posted a BGG GeekList regarding our anniversary and gave away two GeekGold to the first person who correctly guessed the number of years we’ve been married. Light fun.

We’re working to pare down the number of movies to keep in our collection. From over 800, we are now down to about 450 on the “keeper” list, and we may reduce it further. It is likely that some of the older VHS recordings will not be of good enough quality (such as bad tracking) to make it worthwhile to copy to DVD. In those cases, I’ll watch for new opportunities to record them again or may decide to purchase commercial replacements on DVD for some that I really, really like.

Haven’t done any reading today, but might this evening. It has been a nice, calm day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Irons in the Fire

I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire these days – well, at least a lot for an old retired guy.

I just began this blog a few days ago, and I’ve already skipped a day of writing in it. I’ve always had this problem. I have started writing diaries and journals in the past, but never kept them going. I believe my son has been writing a personal (handwritten) journal since he was in high school, or maybe college, which was a number of years ago. I’ve never read any of it – it’s not intended to be public – but I recall him mentioning a few times that writing in his journal has been good therapy when the world was getting a bit much on his mind. I have good intentions about keeping this blog updated, but I have no illusion that I will do so every day.

I have received some writing inspiration this week, which should help encourage me.
Yehuda made a comment (first one received) on my other blog and was very complimentary about my blogs on his blog. Since I am an admirer of his writing, those comments were very welcome.

Now that I’ve begun blogging, I naturally want to improve the look of my blogs, so I bought a book yesterday – HTML 4 for Dummies – an appropriate title for me. Actually, I’m using it to refresh and extend my knowledge of HTML (XHTML), as I completed an online class in HTML in the last year or two, through
About.com (a great web resource on virtually any topic you can think of). So, I still remember the basics of HTML, but need to learn a lot more before I fiddle too much with my blog code.

I have been remiss lately in answering several emails, so I caught up on them today, in addition to writing a letter and a card to a couple of relatives (to send via regular mail).

Sue and I spent several hours yesterday working on our turtle collection. In 1966, we began collecting turtle figurines and other objects with turtle motifs, paintings, carvings, cast figures, etc. We had done a decent job of keeping a card file index of our collection over the years, including cataloging each item with a code to identify its general source. Sue used our digital camera in the past month to photograph all the collection (one item at a time, mostly), while I typed up the index cards in a Word document to inventory the collection. Yesterday, we compared the photos with the typed list and found a few discrepancies, which we resolved. We now have 385 items from 41 countries, 28 U.S. states, and 16 Native American tribes. It has been a fun hobby, and we finally have it well-inventoried and cataloged. Sue is creating an excellent scrapbook-notebook with the photos and the listing.

I am always reading a book or two (or more). I just finished Shelby Foote’s trilogy on the American Civil War – it took some time to read, but was very well worth it. Excellent! I also just finished Sue Grafton’s K is for Killer mystery and am working my way through Jack McDevitt’s science fiction book Polaris, in addition to the HTML book.

I have a large collection of movies I have recorded over the years from TV, which I have begun copying from VHS to DVD. I managed to get three of those done in the last week, but have many to go. It is time-consuming, because I frequently watch the movies again, as I copy them. My collection consists of something over 800 movies, some of which are purchased productions, but the great majority are self-recorded for my own enjoyment. However, I recently decided that I probably will never watch many of them again, so I took time last week to go through my catalog and eliminate most of them from my list to copy. My plan now is to eliminate almost all the VHS tapes and their storage cabinets and to reduce my collection to the ones I will definitely enjoy watching repeatedly, which will reside on DVDs.

The major hobby that I haven’t worked on recently, but am eager to get back to, is family history. I am at a point of beginning more serious genealogy research, having analyzed, identified, cataloged, and placed in notebooks or photo boxes all the old family documents and photos that I have been able to collect from both sides of my family. This, of course, is a major undertaking and a life-time activity.

My other reading project that has taken a back seat lately is that of reading a variety of materials about the 19th century, especially American history and literature. The Civil War books, of course, fall into this project, but I haven’t added anything to my large collection of historical facts regarding that century for quite a while. I will get back to it, but not sure when.

Yes, those are a few of the irons I have in the fire right now – certainly enough to keep me off the streets and out of trouble. Oh, yes, I need to work in a nap today, I think……

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Blog Work

This has been sort of an odd day. I worked on blog issues today. I added several links to this blog, which required some simple HTML work. Fortunately, last year, I completed a basic course in HTML online through About.com. It was an interesting study, and I was pleased to work through it and understand it. Of course, I have done nothing with it since then, so I assumed I would not remember much, if any, of it. I was surprised to discover that I recalled quite a bit of it, once I began looking at the HTML of this blog. I should try to find all my notes from the class, to use here.

I plan to add some photos and graphics to my blog, but have not taken the time to work on those aspects, yet. I did want to post some short writings I have done in the past, but didn't want them to be scattered throughout this blog, showing up only by date posted. So, I set up a separate blog just for the writings and linked the blogs to each other.

Yesterday, I received an invitation to write an article for another blog, and I spent some time today doing that. I assume it will be accepted and posted, perhaps at the end of this week. However, I do not believe my public writings are very interesting to anyone else, so it may be the only article I am invited to write for another blog. If so, that's okay -- I'll probably write some things for my own amusement from time to time and post them on my other blog.

I read a few chapters today in the science fiction book I'm currently reading -- Polaris, by Jack McDevitt. This is the second book by this author that I've read, the first being Chindi. The fact that I cannot recall anything about that first book indicates to me that I am not a strong fan of his. So far, I haven't decided whether I really like Polaris. I have already purchased a third book by McDevitt -- Seeker. If I am unimpressed by Polaris, I may not even read Seeker, but will just donate it to the public library. But, if I finally get into Polaris, I'll give Seeker a try. I have way too many other books, by authors I really enjoy, to spend time on books for which I have only a marginal interest. In fact, I'd much rather re-read good books I've already read, than to waste my time on books that don't really grab me.

Other than the above, I don't feel like I've accomplished much today. It was somewhat an odd day.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Typical Saturday

This has been a typical Saturday at our house. My wife and I fixed lunch for our family -- son, daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, and grandson. This week, we tried a new Italian baked spaghetti recipe, a tried-and-true antipasto salad, and foccacia bread sticks dipped in olive oil, plus home-made brownies. As usual, we had lots of good conversation, while the food quickly disappeared. After clean-up, we selected two boardgames and two card games to play. Our granddaughter prefers to do her own things, but did play the card game Bohnanza with us. Our grandson likes to play any game with the adults, so we selected two games that allow six players -- Settlers of Catan and Around the World in 80 Days. We five adults played a card game new to us for the first time -- Boomtown. As always, we all had a great time -- friendly competition, laughs, good conversation, and just plain fun. Everyone left a little after dark, and my wife and I settled into our usual evening routine -- she watches her TV shows in the family room, while I read, watch some TV, and do some computing downstairs. Ah, yes, this is the way retirement is supposed to be.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Snow Day

Our two grandchildren spent the night with us while their parents were out of town. So, we got up very early, to drive them to school. Naturally, although we haven't had measurable precipitation for about a month, we received at least six inches of snow yesterday and last night. Oh, well, with 4-wheel drive, it wasn't a problem, except for the drivers without 4-wheel drive. Still, it's always great to have the grandkids here for a sleep-over. At ages 8 and 10, they are really growing up and acting quite mature, with fun conversations. Being a grandparent is what it's all about!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Memories and Ruminations

January 19, 2006 -- a good time to begin a blog.

I expect to post a wide variety of thoughts, memories, and personal writings here. I hope to also provide links to sites of particular interest to me, as well as some photos. It may take a while for me to organize this site the way I want it, being completely inexperienced in this activity. I have been very impressed by other blogs on blogspot, and I believe I am ready to embark upon this interesting trip.